At the beginning of 2013, Billy Ray Harris was a 55-year-old man who was homeless and estranged from his family. He lived on the street in Kansas City, Missouri, holding a cup begging people for their spare change in order to buy food.
By the fall, he had purchased a car, put a down payment on a house, and was reunited with his family. You may be thinking, he must have won the lottery using a ticket he purchased with his begging earnings or maybe even that he stole some of the money.
If your mind went that direction, you could be not further from the truth. In fact, it was his strong moral compass and the generosity of thousands of people who heard his story which led to his good fortune.
On February 8, Harris was sitting at his usual spot on Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza when a kind woman stooped to drop some change into his cup. Her name was Sarah Darling, and what she did not realize was that her engagement ring had slipped off and fell into the cup!
When she arrived home, she became horror-struck when she realized her engagement ring was missing! Racking her brain, she concluded it must have fallen into the homeless man’s cup and returned to see if he still had it.
When Harris saw the ring in his cup, he knew it was worth a lot of money. “The ring was so big that I knew if it was real, it was expensive,” he said.
Thinking about all he could do with the money to make his life more comfortable, he went to a jeweler to get the ring appraised. They offered him $4,000 in exchange for the ring, but he could not bring himself to sell it; he knew he needed to hold onto it.
“My grandfather was a reverend,” Harris said. “He raised me from the time I was 6 months old and thank the good Lord, it’s a blessing, but I do still have some character.”
Thankfully he did not sell it, because Darling returned to where Harris was panhandling, squatted down next to him, and asked if he had mistakenly received anything valuable from her previously. Remembering the interaction, Harris recalls asking, “’Was it a ring?” and she says, ‘Yeah.’ And I said, ‘Well, I have it.’”
“It seemed like a miracle,” Darling said. “I thought for sure there was no way I would get it back.”
In order to say thank you to Harris, Darling and her husband, Bill Krejci, decided to start a fundraiser to get him off of the street. In just three months, people donated more than $190,000!
Harris spoke with a lawyer to set up a trust and has since purchased his car and a house he is fixing up himself. But if you were to ask him what the best part of the story would be, it’s not the car or the money, or the house; it’s being reunited with his family.
His youngest sister, Robin, who lives 500 miles away in Wichita Falls, Texas, saw the story and knew he was the brother she had been searching for after losing touch with him. She called him on the phone and it quickly became very emotional.
“We cried on the phone and stuff and was talking about how happy we was that we found each other because he said he was worried about me too,” Robin said. “He had been gone so long.”
They were able to meet in person and he was introduced to his nieces and nephews he never knew existed. Now he’s working on rebuilding his relationships with the rest of his family and could not be happier.
“This is what they call the American Dream,” he said. “I want to thank all the people that helped me out. I want them to see where all their efforts, blessings and kindness is going.”
He is glad all the attention he received is dying down though, “When I think of the past, I think, thank God that it’s over. I mean, I feel human now.”
Now he is a regular member of the Kansas City community and still remembers the kind people who helped him out during those tough times. “I still see some of the same people,” he said, “but only now, instead of coming up and giving me change, they’re coming up shaking my hand and, you know, saying ‘hey, good job.’”
The Krejci’s have a 20-month-old daughter and are looking forward to introducing her to Harris. “It gives [other moms] a real tangible story of really teaching kind of the difference between what’s wrong and what’s right.”
Indeed, Harris’ actions are worthy of being emulated; His pureness of heart and humbleness are extraordinary. For him though, in addition to his gratitude and thanks, he is amused by the outpouring of generosity.
“What I actually feel like is what has the world come to when a person returns something that don’t belong to them and all of this happens?”